MPs’ expenses: Labour MP ‘requested bogus receipts’

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A court has heard how former Scottish Labour MP Jim Devine contacted a printing firm asking them to send him receipts for thousands of pounds worth of work that was never done.

The former MP for Livingston was then sent invoices stamped “received with thanks” for more than £5,500, Southwark Crown Court was told.

Mr Devine is alleged to have used forged invoices to claim a total of £8,740 in cleaning services and office stationery.  He faces two charges under section 17 of the Theft Act 1968 for false accounting.

Giving evidence, Jennifer McCrea, the former company secretary at Armstrong Printing in Alloa, told the jury how she refused Mr Devine’s “strange” requests only to be overruled by her boss Billy Lockie.

Mr Lockie has a longstanding relationship with Labour and has carried out printing work for a number of the party’s MPs and MSPs.

Mrs McCrea explained how she answered a call from Mr Devine in March 2009.  The then Labour MP asked her to make out an invoice for £2,400 for unspecified printing work and requested the bill be marked up as paid and sent directly to him by first class post.

Mrs McCrea said: “It was not something that was in my jurisdiction, as it were, and I refused to do it and I passed the matter to my director Mr Lockie,”

Mr Lockie, she said, had “no qualms” about signing off the invoices and added:

“I told him I wasn’t happy about doing it and I wasn’t signing it and he signed it,” she said.

Peter Wright QC, prosecuting, asked: “By stamping it and signing it, that assumes that Armstrong Printing received £2,400. And had they?”

Mrs McCrea replied: “No they had not.”

Mr Wright then asked: “And did they?”

Mrs McCrea responded: “No they did not.”

Weeks later the Labour MP called again seeking another invoice, this time worth £3,105 including VAT for printing 20,000 pensions questionnaires – work which, the court was told, was never carried out or paid for.

The invoice was again to be stamped “paid” and faxed to Devine’s London flat, something the company only did in urgent cases.  “It was done right away because it was deemed a matter of urgency by Mr Devine,” Mrs McCrea said.

Mrs McCrea explained that it was not unusual for clients to request invoices near the end of the financial year for work yet to be carried out.  This was a way of using up the yearly administration budget and she assumed the Labour MP’s request was similar.

However she added: “I can remember the fact that it was strange, I had never been asked to issue an invoice stamped ‘paid’ before … it was unusual.”

Mr Devine faces a custodial sentence and if found guilty could join former Labour colleague David Chaytor who last month was jailed for 18 months after admitting to three charges of expenses fraud.

The ex-MP for Bury North obtained around £20,000 of taxpayers’ money by claiming rent and mortgage payments he was not entitled to and submitting bogus invoices for IT work.  Chaytor had been due to be the first politician to stand trial over the expenses scandal but changed his plea to guilty days before his trial started.

Mr Devine’s trial continues.